Military Matchmaking: “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk”

More from the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up file: The Pentagon, concerned about the 56,000+ divorces in the army alone since the start of the war in Afghanistan alone, is advertising its chaplain-instructed marriage program, “P.I.C.K. a Partner.” The linked story starts out with the line “They are the Pentagon's new ‘rules of engagement’—the diamond ring kind,” which certainly reads as though the program is newly implemented, but through additional research, I found out it’s being going on for almost decade—which is why it’s probably more honest to say the Pentagon is concerned with the bad press about 56,000+ divorces.

In any case, the public relations piece happily distributed by the AP informs us:

The "no jerks" program is also called "P.I.C.K. a Partner," for Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge.

It advises the marriage-bound to study a partner's F.A.C.E.S. — family background, attitudes, compatibility, experiences in previous relationships and skills they'd bring to the union.

It teaches the lovestruck to pace themselves with a R.A.M. chart — the Relationship Attachment Model — which basically says don't let your sexual involvement exceed your level of commitment or level of knowledge about the other person.

Maj. John Kegley, a chaplain who teaches the program in Monterey, Calif., throws in the "no jerk salute" for fun. One hand at the heart, two-fingers at the brow mean use your heart and brain when choosing.

Though the acronyms and salute make it sound like something the Pentagon would come up with, the program was created by former minister John Van Epp of Ohio, who has a doctorate in psychology and a private counseling practice. He teaches it to Army chaplains, who in turn teach it to troops.

It also is used by social service agencies, prisons, churches and other civilian groups…

The Army hopes the "no jerks" program will help couples decide if they are ready for a long-term commitment and can cope with the unique stresses of military life.

"Settings like military bases are incubators," said Van Epp, of Medina, Ohio. "They try to hatch ... relationships extremely fast," leading to higher divorce rates and more domestic violence.
Gay soldiers need not apply.

Part of me thinks, “Well, at least this is a real attempt to support the troops in a quantitative way,” yet another part of me is irritated by the whole thing—primarily because refraining from sending our troops into unnecessary wars would be a lot better way to help them maintain their marriages, but also because I dislike the entire concept which frames military spouses who can’t hack it as “jerks.” It sets up a spouse who can’t possibly predict their response to long-term separations and a returning partner who may be fundamentally different than when s/he left as shouldering the blame for a possible breakdown of the marriage from the get-go.

Surely a program which positively encourages—“How to Select a Strong Spouse”—is preferable to the negative connotations of “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk.” When the inevitable stresses on any marriage present themselves, it’s got to be better to have the underlying sense that you’re dealing with a strong spouse who will find a way to work through the problems with you rather than the worry you might be stuck with a jerk. More than just a difference of semantics, the power of suggestion can last a long time.

On a side note, I can’t help but feel this program is designed for the majority of soldiers, who are male (a notion that the accompanying picture of a female soldier in the program did not help to avoid conjuring), to ensure they’re choosing good girls with an antiquated notion of marriage in which the women remain dutifully subservient to their men no matter what.

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